Sunday, June 08, 2008

Links and Notes

* A bleg for all early modernists: one of the things I'm doing for Houyhnhnm Land is building a 'Houyhnhnm Land Bookshelf' (sample here, with individual entry sample here) -- in effect, a bibliography of important worthwhile scholarly work on early modern thought (of all kinds, albeit with special enthusiasm for the philosophical). If you have any recommendations, let me know!

* Tor Books, as part of a promotion, is giving free access to an online version of John C. Wright's Orphans of Chaos. If you haven't read it, I recommend it. (ht)

* Observing Evolution in a Laboratory and Zimmer's answers to some questions on it. Very, very cool.

* Vox Day has what is actually a decent examination (continued here) of the tired cliché "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." It's not precisely the argument I would make, but in the basic points he's certainly right, and I have not always managed to be as temperate about the slogan as he has; I have little patience for those particular sorts of uncritical clichés, which people put forward in order to pretend rational superiority, but nonetheless on closer examination turn out to be gibberish. There is no general quality of 'extraordinariness' that attaches to certain kinds of claims, or indeed, any univocal measure of ordinariness and extraordinariness adequate for all claims; claims are extraordinary relative to the baselines set by context and description. There is no general quality of 'extraordinariness' that attaches to evidence, nor any univocal measure of it adequate for including all evidence, and for similar reasons. Even if we assume otherwise, there is not, and never has been, good reason to think that the two are commensurable. Even if we assume that they were, there is not, and never has been, good reason to think that they are proportional; indeed, there is excellent reason to think otherwise. What 'extraordinary' claims require is what 'ordinary' claims require: evidence of a kind relevant to the relevant kind of inference. When you look at the uses of the cliché, you find that it just serves intellectual laziness: instead of doing the serious critical work required to dismiss some claims and support others, people try to define themselves into rightness by throwing slogans. And to that extent it doesn't matter if the claim they are rejecting is wrong: the response to the claim is even worse, because it is mumbo-jumbo of the most insidious sort, the most insidious sort being the kind that passes as sagacity among people who, when confronted with the claim, can't be bothered even to raise the simplest and most basic kinds of questions suggested by perfectly ordinary habits of critical thought. Questions like: "How do we non-arbitrarily determine extraordinariness? Is there a link between extraordinary claim and extraordinary evidence that is more than the purely verbal fact that we can use 'extraordinary' of both? What substantive evidential basis is there for thinking that the resulting principle applies to all kinds of claims and all kinds of evidence?" The failure to think through this sort of response does a disservice to everyone; instead of rejecting claims for solid evidential reasons we are expected to reject them for slippery sloganish ones.

* An interesting post at "denialism blog" on humility and confidence in the practice of medicine.

* Maureen O'Brien adapts a portion of the Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc into a draft of a hymn for St. Joan. By coincidence I have just been reading up on la Pucelle, one of my favorite saints. For those interested in reading the original work by Christine de Pisan (also a favorite of mine), there is an excellent website for it.

* Kenny Pearce discusses Representative Realism, Phenomenalism, and "Physical Talk". I'm sure he'd be interested in any comments on the subject.

* While its point is reasonable, I found this post by Alexander Pruss unintentionally funny, in a bittersweet way; in essence it reads: if you are commenting pseudonymously you should consider why you are unable to stand behind your views in public; but if you are untenured or a graduate student, you have good reasons not to stand behind your views in public. And, unfortunately, he's right in general -- and isn't that a half-funny, half-sad commentary on the shambles of our current academic system? It's set up so that freedom of thought and expression and intellectual courage are luxuries for the tenured. The rest of us, after all, have to kowtow to get a job. I suppose, though, it's not a new problem, but one that constantly crops up in some form or other; one is reminded of Hume's remark about castrating the Treatise in the hopes of impressing Butler.

* Eric Scerri, one of the big names in contemporary philosophy of chemistry, has a collection of papers on the subject coming out this next week. It doesn't really fall within my price range for academic works so far outside my own specialty, so I'll be looking for it to show up in a library, but when it does it will be nice to sit down and read it through all together. I haven't read all of his work, but what I have read has been great. With regard to the blogospheric discussion on philosophy of chemistry that I had recently mentioned, Scerri has a good paper online called The Case for the Philosophy of Chemistry (PDF).


* By the way, First Things seems to have failed to renew its domain name. Does anybody know if they've relocated?

* Interesting discussions of burden of proof here (with Part II here) and here.

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